“Black Orchid”

Today’s Netflix viewing was “Black Orchid,” the fifth episode of season 19, broadcast in March, 1982, and featuring the Fifth Doctor, Nyssa, Tegan, and Adric. I requested this particular episode because I read somewhere that this was the last purely historical story ever produced. The only science fiction elements in the story was the Doctor, the companions, and the TARDIS: no aliens, no spaceships, no death rays. It’s also odd because it consisted of only two parts. The vast majority of classic episodes were 4-6 parts.

Spoilers, by the way.

The episode is set in the 1920s, when the TARDIS lands for some unknown reason in a village in England and the Doctor is recruited to play cricket with Lord Cranleigh. After demonstrating superior cricket skills, he and the TARDIS crew are invited to attend a masquerade party, and are provided costumes. While the Doctor is getting dressed, he gets locked in the secret passages that riddle the mansion, and someone steals his costume and commits a murder while wearing it. The Doctor then arrives as the party in costume and is accused of the murder, but it turns out that Lord Cranleigh has locked away his insane and disfigured brother in the house, and it was he who committed the murder.

Though the episode wasn’t objectively very good, I actually really enjoyed it, simply because it was different. First, we got to see the Doctor actually playing cricket, and he looked the happiest I’ve ever seen him. I think the Fifth Doctor’s ideal life is simply playing cricket on a sunny day with tea and friends. The TARDIS crew got the chance to interact with each other (and other people) socially, rather than just reacting to a stressful situation, though I have to admit that poor Adric only got to show how much of a grumpy wallflower he is. Tegan actually got to enjoy herself for once, dancing at a party and making friends. Sarah Sutton got some variety, playing both Nyssa and a girl named Ann Talbot, a lookalike who is the fiancee of Lord Cranleigh. The pacing of the episode was better than a lot of classic series episodes, since they had to cram it all into two parts and didn’t have long ponderous scenes of actors in stiff alien suits marching slowly across fields.

The biggest problem with the episode was that while it tried to be a murder mystery, the plot was trite and there was nothing to solve. Early on, the audience is shown a mysterious figure skulking about and stealing the costume, so there was no suspense for them, and the Cranleighs knew who the killer was the moment they heard about the murder (though they were willing to let the Doctor take the blame for it, to keep their secret safe). Meanwhile, the Doctor is arrested as soon as the body is found, so he isn’t the one who solves the murder.

The episode would have worked far better if it was more like a real murder mystery, with the Doctor and his companions gathering clues and solving the mystery while being under suspicion themselves. Perhaps Adric should have been the one whose costume was stolen, so that he got more to do in the episode, and there’s a question as to whether or not he actually did it. (Though, Turlough would have been a better fit for that part.) In fact, that’s what I had hoped “The Unicorn and the Wasp” was going to be: an Agatha Christie-like murder mystery with a real, non-alien culprit and dramatic tension. While I do like that episode, it disappointed me that the sleuthing was minimal and the murderer turned out to be just another alien. Both episodes held such promise as good mysteries, and sadly, fell flat.

Sometimes it takes me a while

All through the last couple of seasons of Doctor Who – well, ever since Trenzalore was mentioned – it always bugged me a bit that the Eleventh Doctor was so afraid of Trenzalore. Yes, as a time traveler, you don’t want to visit your own grave, since theoretically when you do so, you die, but Eleven was terrified of it. It seemed so out of character, since all of the Doctors have been very much willing to sacrifice their own lives for their companions or for whatever people or planet they were trying to protect, even if there was no hope of regenerating.

It only just occurred to me, while writing the previous post, that the reason that Eleven is so terrified of Trenzalore is that this is his final incarnation, so going there is the last thing he’ll do: it’s not something a future incarnation will do. When he goes to Trenzalore, he will die and it won’t be for a noble cause, to protect anyone. He’ll just die. Now I feel the sense of urgency and danger, and the utter loss of hope that the name brings. I think if I go back to the episodes that mention it, they’ll feel very different to me.

Sometimes it takes me a while.

Working the numbers

With “The Day of the Doctor” come and gone, the next argument that has come up is, how are the Doctors supposed to be numbered. Of course, in the show, the Doctors don’t call themselves “the Tenth Doctor” or “the Eleventh Doctor.” They just say, “I’m the Doctor.” But for us fans, we have given them numbered names so that we can tell them apart. It’s a lot easier to say “the Ninth Doctor” or “Nine” than to say “Eccleston’s Doctor.” Typing, too – for some reason, I mess up typing “Eccleston” all the time. We’ve been calling the Doctors by their numbers for years, and we’ve always meant the incarnation number, but the War Doctor has thrown a screwdriver into the system.

Thus the argument: Do the numbers by which we refer to the Doctors need to be changed to reflect the War Doctor being the ninth incarnation, making Mr. Eccleston the Tenth Doctor, Mr. Tennant the Eleventh Doctor, and Mr. Smith the Twelfth Doctor?

We’ve worked this all out, with help from series producer and writer Steven Moffat, and this is how it works. While discussing this, we came upon an interesting revelation, which I’ll reveal below. Remember, you heard it hear first! (Not really. I’m sure this has already been suggested elsewhere on the internet. Nothing on the web is truly original.)

The information I’m basing the numbering on comes from the following two articles, quoting Steven Moffat.

You can read the articles, so I won’t quote them here, but I will summarize them.

  • The numbers we use to refer to the Doctor’s incarnations refer to the different bodies of the man called the Doctor. The War Doctor did not consider himself the Doctor and thus does not count in the numbering system. Mr. Eccleston, Mr. Tennant, and Mr. Smith remain the Ninth, Tenth, and Eleventh Doctors, respectively.
  • John Hurt’s Doctor is called the War Doctor.
  • The Doctor has used up all twelve of his regenerations, because in “The Stolen Earth,” a Dalek shot the Tenth Doctor, causing a regeneration that was diverted into his severed hand and later created the Meta-Crisis Tenth Doctor. The MCTD is the same body as the Tenth Doctor, so Mr. Smith’s number is still Eleven, but the regeneration that created Eleven was the twelfth and final one.
  • How the Doctor is going to regenerate a thirteenth time into Mr. Capaldi is yet to be seen.

Honestly, it’s a good thing the numbering system didn’t change. Can you imagine the amount of work it would take to retroactively change all of the references on the web to the right ones? And just in conversation between people who want to change and people wanting to keep to the old system, it would be a mess. Personally, I prefer the old system, if only because I think ten, being a happy number, suits Mr. Tennant, while Mr. Smith’s Doctor gets a nice, odd, prime number. Ah, recreational mathematics!

The interesting thing we found, though, is the actual numbering of the regenerations. Here they all are, listed by actor.

  1. William Hartnell
  2. Patrick Troughton
  3. Jon Pertwee
  4. Tom Baker
  5. Peter Davison
  6. Colin Baker
  7. Sylvester McCoy
  8. Paul McGann
  9. John Hurt (the War Doctor)
  10. Christopher Eccleston
  11. David Tennant
  12. David Tennant (the Meta-Crisis Tenth Doctor)
  13. Matt Smith

Now, we visit a bit of history, specifically, from The Trial of a Time Lord, the season 23 story of the Sixth Doctor on trial. In it, the prosecutor is the Valeyard, and near the end of the story, the Master reveals to the Doctor who the Valeyard is.

“The Valeyard is an amalgamation of the darker sides of your nature, somewhere between your twelfth and final incarnation, and I may say you do not improve with age.”

This would mean the Valeyard is either the Meta-Crisis Tenth Doctor or something born out of him. This could make sense. As the Tenth Doctor said to him, “You were born in battle, full of blood and anger and revenge,” which could be the darker sides of his nature that the Master mentioned. The Tenth Doctor sent the MCTD with Rose because he hoped that she could heal him, but if she couldn’t, he could easily become worse and try to get revenge on the Doctor and steal his regenerations so that he could live. It’s also known that there was a scene that was filmed but not used in which the Tenth Doctor gave the MCTD a piece of TARDIS coral so he could create his own TARDIS, and Donna told him how to speed up the process so that he’d have one within his lifetime. (Russell T. Davies has said that it should be assumed that this scene happened, even though it didn’t make it into the show.) Couple that with the Time Lords eventually coming back (if the Twelfth Doctor can find and release Gallifrey), which will allow travel between universes again, and the MCTD could travel across and head back to the Sixth Doctor for the trial.

There are two problems with this theory. First, why does the Valeyard not look like the MCTD? I’m sure there’s some Time Lord thing that can explain this, but barring that, there’s plastic surgery. Not too big a problem. The second problem is, if the trial has already happened, the MCTD already knows that he failed, so why would he go back? The only possible answer is that he’s trying to change his own timeline, which I suppose was the whole point of the Valeyard all along; after all, if he succeeded in taking the Sixth Doctor’s remaining regenerations, the Doctor would have never made it to the twelfth incarnation to create the Valeyard. Which means the Valeyard never existed and the Sixth Doctor still has his regenerations. But then the Valeyard appears after the twelfth incarnation and… Ow, my head! Must… continue… trying… to think… non-linearly… and… non-subjectively!

I’m not really sure how seriously I’m taking this theory (it probably is incorrect, because Mr. Moffat has said that he doesn’t want to mess with the ending of Rose’s story, which is why Billie Piper played the Moment and not Rose in “The Day of the Doctor”), but it’s fun to think about. I especially like the idea of Mr. Tennant returning to Doctor Who in a few years to play the Valeyard. But mostly, I love learning about the vast history of this show and thinking about how it all interconnects.

More thoughts on “The Day of the Doctor”

We watched “The Day of the Doctor” again last night, to fix it better in our minds and to get the bits of dialogue we missed while the theater audience was laughing or clapping. And I have to say, I still like it a lot. The scene where Ten and Eleven place their hands on the War Doctor’s on the Moment’s switch brings a tear to my eye.

Remember, by the way, spoilers!

Personally, I think my favorite scenes (other than the climax at the end; I always love scenes in which the situation is resolved by the appearance of multiple incarnations) are the ones in which Ten and Eleven play off of each other. The two Doctors are very different from each other, the One Who Regrets being the emo (for lack of a better word) who has been tormented both by the events of the Last Great Time War and, more recently, by the loss of Rose and Donna, and the One Who Forgets being the child who tries to forget the Time War and the loss of the Ponds. At times, they are in opposition, and at others, they are best friends. Either way, though, Mr. Tennant and Mr. Smith work together flawlessly. It saddens me to think that they’ll never be brought together like this again. (Unless the Powers That Be produce specials for them, the next multi-Doctor special will focus on future Doctors, not these. And if they only do this for major anniversaries, it will be ten years before the opportunity even comes up.)

The story was really about the War Doctor’s journey to find himself and decide what was the right thing to do. The Moment takes him to see his future incarnations to see what he becomes, and he sees what look like two children: both young and energetic, with glib tongues and an apparent inability to take anything seriously. The War Doctor is disgusted with them (a deleted scene has him lamenting that they never shut up) and wonders how they ever came to terms with the genocide of the Time Lords and the Daleks; he (and the Tenth Doctor) is further amazed that the Eleventh Doctor has willingly forgotten the horrors of the Time War, because he can’t bear to remember them.

But then the War Doctor watches them solve a situation very similar to his own: when it seems that the humans have to destroy a city to preserve the rest of their race, the Tenth and Eleventh Doctor force a solution in which the two sides of the conflict must stop the destruction and peaceably work out a solution. It’s this act that makes him realize that these two Doctors are great men doing what they must. They both deeply regretted obliterating the Time Lords and the Daleks, but doing so saved everyone else, and they continue to strive to save the universe that they once saved by activating the Moment. This epiphany gives the War Doctor what he needs to make his decision, and he returns to the Moment to do what he must.

The one thing that I didn’t like in this episode was the emphasis on the deaths of the Gallifreyan children. I felt that this plot point was played for its pathos, and ignored all of the other horrors of the war. First, as I’ve mentioned above, the Doctor commits at least two genocides when he activates the Moment. Both the Time Lords and Daleks are wiped out, but the Moment convulsed the universe, obliterating other planets and galaxies: far more than just two sentient races were destroyed. The power of the Moment to do far more damage than just destroy Gallifrey should have been at least mentioned.

Second, the show implied that the Doctor fired the Moment because the Daleks were about to destroy Gallifrey and if he didn’t destroy both, the Daleks would go on to destroy the universe. But this isn’t the real reason. In The End of Time, Rassilon reveals what the High Council was doing during the final attack on Gallifrey (mentioned in “The Day of the Doctor” when the general complains that the High Council is sequestered).

RASSILON: We will initiate the Final Sanction. The end of time will come at my hand. The rupture will continue until it rips the Time Vortex apart.
MASTER: That’s suicide.
RASSILON: We will ascend to become creatures of consciousness alone. Free of these bodies, free of time, and cause and effect, while creation itself ceases to be.
DOCTOR: You see now? That’s what they were planning in the final days of the War. I had to stop them.

The Doctor didn’t fire the Moment just to stop the Daleks, sacrificing his own people in the process. He fired the Moment to prevent the immediate destruction of the universe by the High Council of the Time Lords.

Now, perhaps Mr. Moffat took the easy route with the narrative, since focusing on the children is a lot simpler (and quicker) for the audience relate to than dredging up the complicated backstory last seen three years ago. (Though, one might argue that the children were doomed in any of the three possible outcomes: killed by Daleks, destroyed by the Moment, or erased by the Final Sanction, since the majority of Gallifreyans are not Time Lords, who are the ones who would ascend.) Sometimes you have to make sacrifices to narrative flow.

The change to the end of the Last Great Time War takes a bit of getting used to, but I think it’s great that the Doctor now has something of a quest to work towards. Eventually he will find Gallifrey and bring it out, and then the Time Lords will be back. The Time Lords are jerks. They always have been. They’ve insisted on non-interference in other planets’ affairs and enjoy taking the Doctor to task for it, and then go off and interfere themselves, to their own selfish ends, sometimes on a planetary scale (see Ravolox). When they go bad, they go really bad (see Borusa and Rassilon), and the Last Great Time War corrupted them even more (only two of them voted against the Final Sanction). I can’t imagine that Rassilon is going to be very happy to see the Doctor when Gallifrey reappears.

I’m also enjoying the mental gymnastics needed to really grok this storyline; the analysis has been fueling the conversation between me and my husband for the past two days (one outcome of which I’ll elaborate on in the next post). I find it difficult to really see how the Ninth and Tenth Doctor (and most of the Eleventh Doctor) comes out of the events here. The Moment wasn’t really fired, but up until the events in “The Day of the Doctor” in Eleven’s timeline, the Doctor thinks the Moment has been fired. Whaaa-? I know that the takeaway is “Everything in the last seven seasons of the show really did happen – just go with it,” but I’m a fan of the backstory and I must understand how it all fits together.  Yes, I know, this is Doctor Who and it doesn’t all fit together, but I try.


The evening of the Doctor

The day finally came and went: we went to see “The Day of the Doctor” in 3D in the movie theater! It was a long wait, and it was completely worth it.

Warning: Spoilers! Don’t read more if you don’t want to get spoiled.

I went in costume as the Fifth Doctor; my husband unfortunately was unable to wear his Fourth Doctor costume, and I think he now regrets it in hindsight. We arrived at the theater an hour early, and had to wait in line, as the theater didn’t let us in until half an hour before the start. There weren’t too many cosplayers there, and most of them were dressed as the Eleventh Doctor: there was one Tenth Doctor, one TARDIS (completely with a light on her head), a couple of the dolls from Night Terrors, and a few people with partial costumes (for example, Tenth Doctor-like suit jacket over a Doctor Who t-shirt). The only classic Doctor was me, and it was quite gratifying to hear people saying to each other, “Oh, look, it’s Peter Davison!!” I did get in on a group picture with the TARDIS, the Tenth Doctor, and one of the Eleventh Doctors, and one of the picture-takers promised to email me a copy.

Probably one of the coolest things about the entire night, though, was simply watching “The Day of the Doctor” on the big screen in a group of fans. The energy in the atmosphere was tangible, and there is nothing like a room of 300 people who share your interests and are laughing and clapping together. The applause that broke out when the Ninth Doctor appeared on the screen was exhilirating. I wish that Mr. Eccleston could have seen it, so that he would know how much we loved his Doctor and wish that he would ever return for events like these. The appearance of the Twelfth Doctor also caused an eruption of applause and screams. The Christmas special can’t come soon enough.

But, to the show itself. It was brilliant. Steven Moffat managed to pull together all the things that an anniversary special needs to have: a coherent plot that isn’t too convoluted, more than one popular Doctor, great interaction between the principals, references and in-jokes for the fans, and a resolution that depends on the current Doctor (rather than on one of the guest Doctors, as it happened in “The Five Doctors”). The show was fun and exciting. Added to this was a taste of things to come, the intimation that the Doctor now has a quest, which pulls the show into the future.

We all knew, going into the episode, that it was going to be dealing with some pretty serious stuff. Eleven, in the previous episode, “The Name of the Doctor,” did not want to face the memory of the War Doctor, and certainly seemed to have succeeded in forgetting about him again by the beginning of the special. However, right after the wonderful black-and-white opening and the school sign with Ian Chesterton’s name boldly displayed, the atmosphere is set: this is still a Doctor Who episode and we know it will sparkle with humor and clever dialogue. The tormented War Doctor is introduced, and the Moment, and then a fez falls at their feet. Where did that come from? We’re shown where, because it’s all a big ball of wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey film-making. The three Doctors together get into scrapes and find solutions in typical Doctor fashion – leaps of logic and manipulation of time. Just that much would make a good regular episode.

And then the main conflict: can the War Doctor do what he needs to do to end the Time War? He does, but not how you expect it to happen, as Clara inspires the Doctors to find another solution, a solution that requires assistance from all of the Doctor’s incarnations, and the thirteen of them (yes, thirteen!) appear to enact the plan, and Gallifrey stands.

There are a few bits of the episode that didn’t work for me, but I’m not going to nitpick them here, and anyway, in any story, there are things to nitpick, but they don’t necessarily ruin it. “The Day of the Doctor” succeeded in all of the things that make Doctor Who fantastic, and enjoying it on the big screen with a crowd of fellow fans was definitely the way to go.

Happy 50th, Doctor Who! Thanks for everything!

Nine more hours, clever boys and girls, and the Fish Doctor!

I’ve held out. “The Day of the Doctor” came and went two days ago, and even though I have been able to download the episode (on BBC iPlayer using a VPN spoofing my IP address as one from the UK), I have stoically refused to watch it. I will be watching it for the first time tonight, at the local theater, in my Fifth Doctor costume. I’ve stayed off the internet, not even visiting my own Facebook page, to avoid spoilers. I’ve rewatched the original trailer (but not the second one) and The Night of the Doctor but otherwise stayed away from the teaser clips and other material. I just have to survive for nine more hours.

It’s actually been pretty easy. We re-watched “Nightmare in Silver” and “The Name of the Doctor” to get back into the right timestream (ha, see what I did there?). But otherwise, it’s pretty much been a stress-free weekend. I’ve spent my time reading a music theory textbook (it’s actually really good, if you’re into that kind of stuff on a beginner level), fixed up bits of my Fifth Doctor costume, including coming up with a way of getting my fake decorative vegetable to lie flat instead of flopping around on my lapel, and worked a little on a fanfic that I’m trying to write and will probably scrap because it’s not coming together.

I also rewatched “Silence in the Library”/”Forest of the Dead” for the first time since finishing all of the Eleventh Doctor’s episodes, and it was very cool to see how well they seeded River Song’s story in that episode. Beyond the obvious line of the Doctor and River meeting each other in backwards order to each other, River mentions the crash of the Byzantium. They also make sure that you know that Ten sees her one more time before he regenerates, which explains why she recognizes him.

There was one other very interesting parallel to this episode, one that I am absolutely amazed was planned out this far in advance (this episode was aired in 2008, and its parallel did not appear until 2013). We all know that Clara Oswald is “the Impossible Girl,” and that her tagline is, “Run, you clever boy, and remember.” At the end of “Forest of the Dead,” when River arrives in CAL’s world, the following exchange takes place.

CAL: It’s okay, you’re safe. You’ll always be safe here. The Doctor fixed the data core. This is a good place now. But I was worried you might be lonely, so I brought you some friends. Aren’t I a clever girl?
EVANGELISTA: Aren’t we all?
RIVER: Oh, for heaven’s sake. He just can’t do it, can he? That man. That impossible man. He just can’t give in.

The clever girl.

The clever girl.

The roles are switched. The Doctor is “impossible” and CAL, the computer who has saved River to her memory banks, is the “clever girl” who must continue running and continue to remember. Maybe it’s a coincidence, but look at the dialogue. The mention of the clever girl and the impossible man don’t need to be there, and the first really doesn’t fit with what we know of CAL’s personality – she was never self-referential. I choose to believe that Mr. Moffat put this in intentionally, a seed that germinated into the storyline of the Doctor and Clara.

One thing about the 50th anniversary that I did find, watch, and highly enjoy was The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot. Apparently for about two weeks before “The Day of the Doctor,” Peter Davison was tweeting hints about this mini-episode from the account dayoftheFishDr, and it was released on Saturday. I’ve watched it three times in the last day, and I hope that “The Day of the Doctor” is anywhere near as good. I also hope that it will be included on “The Day of the Doctor” blu-ray release (but I highly doubt it).

The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot, hereafter referred to as FDR (which is what the Fish Doctor calls it) was written and directed by Peter Davison (and produced by Georgia Moffett under her married name, Georgia Tennant), and is a tale of Mr. Davison, Colin Baker, and Sylvester McCoy trying to become part of the Doctor Who 50th anniversary special. The title refers back to the 20th anniversary episode, “The Five Doctors” (which I wrote about here), in which the First Doctor (played by Richard Hurndall), the Second Doctor, and the Third Doctor join the Fifth Doctor in an adventure. This episode is “Five(ish)” because Tom Baker got stuck in a time eddy again and Paul McGann wanted to go with the other three to get onto the show, but he had too many scripts to read and shows to shoot.

(There’s an awesome symmetry between “The Five Doctors” and FDR, in that the first has the Doctors up through Mr. Davison, and the second has (almost) all the actors from Mr. Davison forward. Still sadly no appearance from Mr. Eccleston.)

The Doctor surrounded by Cybermen.

FDR spoofs Doctor Who while also underlining the difficulties actors have in getting parts they want. It’s filled with Doctors and companions, behind-the-scenes people (including both Steven Moffat and Russell T. Davies), actors we know and love and their families, and references, both overt and subtle, to this wonderful show. Sylvester McCoy carries with him a umbrella at all times. Mr. Moffat has a dream very much like the Fifth Doctor’s regeneration hallucination (and it ends with a hilarious line from Matthew Waterhouse). Also, when he erases all of the voicemail from Five, Six, and Seven, his phone says, in a Cyberman voice, “The Doctors have been deleted.” My favorite is a quiet reference to “The Five Doctors”: Mr. Davison, just before running away from someone, says, “Sorry, must dash.”

Perhaps one of the coolest touches in the script was from the two classic Doctors who don’t chase after the 50th anniversary special: Mr. McGann, who wants to join the chase but can’t because he’s got a show to shoot, and Tom Baker, who only appears in footage from “Shada.” And now we know why they didn’t: The Eighth Doctor was shooting his own mini-episode, and Mr. Baker didn’t have to search for a part in the special. (Yes, I got slightly spoiled on that. Oh well.)

I’m not much of a film buff and couldn’t tell you if Mr. Davison’s directing was any good, but the script was marvelous. It’s a treat for fans and I laughed aloud a number of times. I have a very soft spot in my heart for Mr. Davison – Five is my second favorite Doctor, “Time Crash” is one of the best episodes ever, and I am currently highly enjoying All Creatures Great and Small – and FDR is just raising him in my estimation. Thanks for the wonderful tribute to Doctor Who, Mr. Davison!

My fifteen favorite episodes

Today is the Eve of the Day of the Doctor! I pretty much have to stay off the Internet for the next three days to avoid being spoiled before the theatrical release. I actually considered having cable installed just for this month so that we could see “The Day of the Doctor” with everyone else, but I couldn’t quite justify that expense.

Everyone has been posting their lists of the best Doctor Who episodes, so I’m doing my list, though mine are my favorite episodes, not necessarily the best episodes. For example, I think “The Ark in Space” is one of the best episodes I’ve seen, but I wouldn’t rate it in my favorites. This list is very much entrenched in the new series, because I haven’t seen a whole bunch of the old series yet.

These are the episodes that I like to re-watch the most. I couldn’t pare it down to ten.

15. The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang

This episode has three great things about it. First, Rory and his incredible devotion. Second, the time travel loops in the second half that end up saving the day. Third, the Pandorica speech. It’s one of the greatest monologues in the entire show. It’s too bad that the aliens leaving was just a bluff.

Favorite scene: The Pandorica speech. “Let someone else try first.”

14. The Eleventh Hour

I love regeneration episodes. Well, ok, “Time and the Rani” was terrible. But still. This one  introduces the Eleventh Doctor, in all his quirky, chaotic glory. It’s a fun romp, and ends with him walking through a montage of the ten previous Doctors.

Favorite scene: Um, the Doctor walking through the montage of the ten previous Doctors.  “Hello. I’m the Doctor. Basically, run.”

13. The End of Time

I also love direct references to the history of Doctor Who. This show has an incredibly intricate universe, so let’s see more of it! This episode has the Master, the Time Lords, Gallifrey, and Rassilon, maddened by the Time War. Oh, Rassilon, how far you have fallen!

I tried to be honest about how much I rewatch these episodes, so this one is rated low on the list simply because it makes me cry every time and I often refuse to watch it because I’ll be crying for the rest of the day.

Favorite scene: The showdown between the Doctor, the Master, and Rassilon. “The link is broken. Back into the Time War, Rassilon. Back into hell.

12. Vincent and the Doctor

And I love historical episodes. Poor Vincent. Amy and the Doctor really changed his life, even if they couldn’t change his destiny.

Favorite scene: Anything that references Van Gogh’s life and paintings. The re-creation of the bedroom at Arles was fantastic. (This is much like the insertion of Agatha Christie novel titles into the dialogue of “The Unicorn and the Wasp.”)

11. Rose

Christopher Eccleston introducing himself as the Ninth Doctor in a spectacular way.

Favorite scene: Rose enters the TARDIS for the first time and finds out about the Doctor. Rose: “Are you an alien?” The Doctor: “Yes.”

10. The Five Doctors

“The Five Doctors” is not a great episode; the plot is actually pretty terrible. But seeing the four Doctors (First, Second, Third, and Fifth – Tom Baker chose to not participate in this special) interact with each other is priceless, and makes this episode a whole lot of fun.

Favorite scene: The first three Doctors examine the inscription and try to show up each other. Second Doctor: “It’s Old High Gallifreyan, the ancient language of the Time Lords. Not many people understand it these days.” All three of the Doctors: “Fortunately, I do.”

9. Voyage of the Damned

A great adventure episode, and the look on Ten’s face when he sees where the Titanic is going to land is priceless.

Favorite scene: The Doctor promises to save everyone. “I’m the Doctor. I’m a Time Lord. I’m from the planet Gallifrey in the constellation of Kasterborous. I’m nine hundred and three years old and I’m the man who’s going to save your lives and all six billion people on the planet below.”

8. The Lodger

Ever imagined what life would be like if Eleven moved into your house? This is it. Hold onto your hat.

Favorite scene: While there are tons of great Eleven scenes here, I love watching him play football.

7. The Doctor’s Wife

Written by Neil Gaiman, this episode has a great plot and sparkling dialogue, which is what Neil Gaiman always delivers. And it cements the relationship between the Doctor and the companion he’s been with the longest.

Favorite scene: The Doctor finds out who Idris really is. “Ah, it’s my thief.”

6. The Girl in the Fireplace

This episode touched me so much that I actually wrote a fanfic about it – my one and only fanfic ever, probably. The development of Ten’s relationship with Reinette is beautiful, and so sad.

Favorite scene: The Doctor returns to the bedroom to find that Reinette has grown up. “It is customary, I think, to have an imaginary friend only during one’s childhood. You are to be congratulated on your persistence.”

5. School Reunion

I could watch the scenes of John Smith’s introduction to Sarah Jane and Sarah Jane’s finding the TARDIS and the Doctor over and over again.

Favorite scene: Sarah identifies John Smith as the Doctor. “It’s you!”

4. The Christmas Invasion

This episode is excellent for so many reasons. It demonstrates very clearly how lost planet Earth is if the aliens arrive and the Doctor is not there to help. It deals with Rose realizing that the Doctor is far more alien than she imagined, and helps her accept this new person she thought she knew. And it lets the Doctor be the undisputed hero at the end, demonstrating all of the salient points of his character, so that we know exactly who he is when the season preview starts rolling.

Favorite scene: The Doctor’s monologue, up until challenging the Sycorax leader. “Or are you just a kalak pel gahsa kree salvak?” (Yes, I typed that without having to look it up.)

3. Smith and Jones

This is one of my favorite “sit back and hang out” episodes. It’s full of action, great dialogue, and the type of eccentric comedy that Doctor Who excels at. When I just want a quick injection of insanity, this is my go-to episode.

Favorite scene: The Doctor in bed, being examined by the medical students. “Perhaps a visit from psychiatric.”

2. The Next Doctor

Jackson Lake’s story is so tragic and yet so wonderful, I feel compelled to watch this episode over and over again, at least once a week. David Morrissey would have been a fantastic Doctor. Perhaps he will be, in the future sometime.

Favorite scene: The reveal of the new Doctor’s identity.

1. Human Nature/Family of Blood

There are so many reasons I watch this episode so often.  One is Mr. Tennant’s amazing performance as both the Doctor and the completely human, 1910s teacher John Smith. Another is Harry Lloyd’s performance as creepy Jeremy Baines/Son of Mine. And, of course, the story of John Smith, his beautiful life, and his sacrifice to save his village, his school, and the universe.

Favorite scene: The Doctor returning to ask Nurse Redfern to travel with him. This is the first time Mr. Tennant is playing the Doctor, rather than John Smith, and the Doctor’s alien nature is palpable, almost jarring and repulsive.

Honorable Mention 1. Time Crash

“Time Crash” is easily my most watched episode, though I couldn’t include it in the above list because it’s only a mini-episode. Beyond the fact that Ten and Five are my favorite Doctors, the dialogue and comedy are just fantastic. I’ll pop open YouTube any time and watch this really quick.

Honorable Mention 2. Doctor Who Children in Need (2005)

Another mini-episode, this adds a lot to the story, between Nine’s regeneration into Ten and the beginning of “The Christmas Invasion.” Rose doesn’t just accept that Ten is the Doctor: he has to convince her.

Honorable Mention 3. Midnight

I include this as an honorable mention because I love this episode but don’t watch it often because it is simply too intense. On my list of best episodes, it’s easily in the top three, but I can’t put it on a list of favorites because I can’t make myself watch it very often.

Honorable Mention 4. Bad Wolf/Parting of the Ways

I’ve actually not watched these two episodes in their entirety more than a couple of times, but I watch Nine’s farewell to Rose all the time.

Honorable Mention 5. Enlightenment

“Enlightenment” is a very surreal episode from the Fifth Doctor’s period, and while it’s pretty good, it’s not great. However, it has this one scene in it that cracks me up every time. The Fifth Doctor and Tegan are attending a reception held by the Eternals, and one of the Eternals is talking to Tegan while Five is standing nearby. He spots a bowl of celery on the buffet table and spends the rest of the scene in the background, covetously inspecting the stalks of celery and eventually selecting one to replace the one on his lapel. I’ll pop in the DVD just to watch this, and even though I’ve seen this scene multiple times, I still don’t know what the Eternal and Tegan were talking about.

You know you’ve been watching too much Doctor Who when…

Is there really such a thing as too much Doctor Who? Not as far as I’m concerned. But, like most obsessions, it can really creep into your daily life. These are not just things that I’ve thought of to be funny. These are things I’ve actually done without premeditation. (One thing I’ve done with premeditation is pull out my sonic screwdriver toy and fire it at the car’s trunk at the moment my husband hit the remote control button to open it.)

You know you’ve been watching too much Doctor Who when…

  1. …while watching Thor: The Dark World and they start fighting in Greenwich, your first, serious thought is “Aw man, London is getting destroyed AGAIN!”
  2. …apologizing to someone, you say, “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”
  3. …someone taps on the table “tap tap tap tap…tap tap tap tap…tap tap tap tap” and you jump and look around for the Master.
  4. …to turn 90 degrees to the right, you spin dramatically on your heels.
  5. …you smile that wide, toothy, impish David Tennant grin. (It does not look good on me and I’ve consciously stopped myself from trying to do that anymore.)
  6. …you notice that your new shoes, which are dark brown with blue stitching and have laces that are dark brown with thin blue stripes, look like the Tenth Doctor’s suit. (They are now my favorite shoes!)
  7. …you turn the key in the car ignition while saying, “And now we fire up the helmic regulator!” In a British accent, of course.
  8. …you constantly sing “Song for Ten.” Everywhere – at home, in the shower, at work, driving to work, walking through a parking lot…


My husband asked me an interesting question yesterday, one that took me a few minutes to think about before I could answer.  He said,

“Are you afraid that ‘The Day of the Doctor’ is not going to be as good as you expect?”

The thought hadn’t occurred to me before that, but I realized that to answer it, I needed to know how good I expected the episode to be. I am very excited to see the episode on Monday (we don’t have TV service, so we have to wait until the theatrical screening), almost to the point of distraction (in the modern sense and the Jane Austen sense), but how good do I expect the episode to be?

To be completely honest, I’m not expecting it to be good. I’m also not expecting it to be bad. I suppose I’m not expecting anything as far as quality goes. I would love it to be a brilliant episode, but really will only be disappointed if it’s terrible. If it’s average or even somewhat bad, it won’t bother me.

What I’m expecting is more along the lines of what we’ll see in it. This is what I want to see (and don’t want to see) in “The Day of the Doctor.”

  • I want to find out the War Doctor’s history.
  • I want to see the War Doctor fire the Moment.
  • I don’t want to see the Nightmare Child, the Skaro Degradations, the Would-Be King and his army of Mean-whiles and Never-weres, and other previously-mentioned denizens of the Time War. They need to stay in the audience’s imagination, for that’s where they evince their terror.
  • I want the Tenth Doctor to have one really good, energetic, Tenth Doctor moment.
  • I want the Eleventh Doctor to remain the focus of the show. It’s his show, after all. Much as I love Ten, he’s the guest here. I suppose I’m afraid that having to work Ten into the episode will take valuable time and narrative away from the main story, which is Eleven and the War Doctor.
  • I want to see the War Doctor regenerate into the Ninth Doctor.

I really want to see that last one, though it’s highly improbable, given that Christopher Eccleston declined participation in the episode. It’s pretty much already known that the Moment, like the De-Mat Gun it’s based on, destroys the memories of the person firing it, at the very least, so it’s possible the War Doctor will die when he fires it. However he does die, I want to see it, and I would like very much to see the regeneration. It’s possible that they’ve been lying to us all this time and that Mr. Eccleston will appear, for that one scene. It’s also possible that like for Paul McGann, who stated that he wasn’t going to be in the 50th anniversary episode, they’ll release a mini-episode after “The Day of the Doctor” that shows the death and regeneration.

Crossing my fingers.

The eighth Doctor

With the mini-episode “The Night of the Doctor,” the spotlight was turned on to the Eighth Doctor, portrayed by Paul McGann. I remember watching Eight’s movie back when it was first broadcast in 1996: it was about four months after I met the man who is now my husband, and since he was a huge Doctor Who fan from his days of living in England and the PBS broadcasts in the U.S. (at the time, he was still a member of the local fan club, Time Travelers Anonymous), we had to watch this new movie. And it was terrible. I don’t remember the movie at all, but I remember that he was very disappointed and unhappy about it. It’s very possible that his experience with this movie directly affected his decision not to watch the new series in 2005. He didn’t want to watch it because he was afraid it would ruin his memories of the classic series, possibly because the 1996 movie had the same effect.

We saw “The Night of the Doctor” when it was released five days ago, and though we don’t know much about the Eighth Doctor, we felt it was a fantastic tribute to him, and he was given a very noble and meaningful death. We then decided to get the movie from Netflix and give it a second chance. After all, we heard that the Americans hated the movie but the British liked it, so maybe we wouldn’t find it so bad this time. We watched it last night.

And it was terrible.

At least he got his own very cool steampunk console.

At least he got his own very cool steampunk console.

Now, it’s very easy to compare the movie to the show (new or classic) and say that it’s terrible because it doesn’t have all of the things we love in the show, but I think objectively, this TV movie was terrible in and of itself. It would have been terrible if they had given it another name and renamed the characters so it didn’t have anything to do with Doctor Who. Why was it so bad?

First, the overall conflict – the Master trying to steal the Doctor’s remaining regenerations – was incomprehensible. The Master starts out dead, but possesses a human so that he can enact his nefarious plan. This involved opening the Eye of Harmony in the TARDIS, which apparently only a human can do; luckily, the Master found a human he could bribe to do it for him and filled him with stories about how the Doctor was evil and stole his body. In order to stop the Master, the Doctor had to close the Eye of Harmony, but the TARDIS’s timing circuit was off, so he had to find and steal a timing circuit from an atomic clock. He gets to the TARDIS with his companion, Dr. Grace Holloway, but the Master hypnotizes her and they truss up the Doctor to steal his regenerations. He tells the other human that no, it’s the Master that’s evil, and he believes him and refuses to act, and the Master kills him. At this point, I can’t really remember what happened, because it was really confusing. I know the Master lets Grace out of the hypnotism, and she fixes the TARDIS (honestly) before the Master can steal the regenerations. The Master kills her, but gets sucked into the Eye of Harmony. They also have to go back in time a little bit to redo something that went wrong earlier. Then the TARDIS resurrects both humans.

I don’t have a problem with complicated plots or plots that take a while to figure out. There are a number of classic and new episodes that have complex plots and are good. “Blink” is a great example of that. The plot of this movie was just stupid. It felt to me that someone wrote a plot summary for the script and then the American executives told them to do the following to make it appeal to Americans.

  • Add a car chase scene: Getting to the atomic clock involved the Doctor and Grace on a motorcycle being chased by the Master and his bribed human in an ambulance.
  • Have the Doctor kiss the companion romantically: The first kiss was an “I just remembered who I am, thanks, Grace!” kiss, which was just fine, but it was followed by two more obviously romantic kisses.
  • Make sure you use time travel to fix something
  • Make the Doctor predict future events so that we know he can see the future – none of that wibbly-wobbly, I can see the turn of the universe crap.
  • Make him half-human, so that he isn’t so damn alien.
  • Add a physical ghost-like snake to represent the dead Master’s spirit, so that people “get” what he’s doing, and that he’s evil.
  • Amnesia. Yes, give the Doctor amnesia so that the audience can discover him as he discovers himself.

To be completely honest, the movie had a lot to accomplish. It had to introduce all the things the fans already know about the Doctor – he’s an alien with alien physiology, he can regenerate, he has a time machine, he can see beyond our narrow concept of time, he’s got a deadly enemy – while making it understandable to an audience that had never seen the show before, telling a story within a 1.5-hour time limit, and making it appealing to a different country. I think it bit off more than it could chew. It wasted so much of the time it had adding useless action scenes and filler scenes (in trying to create tension in the “is Grace going to figure it out in the last 30 seconds” scene, it kept cutting to scenes of the people in San Francisco celebrating Y2K). It would have done a lot better if it had gone with a generic monster-of-the-day and spent more of its screen time establishing who the Doctor was and what he was all about.

Basically, the writers of this movie lost sight of what makes Doctor Who so good: the characters and the terror. Go look at the lists of “favorite scenes” from the classic and new shows which are all over the place right now. What do they show? Almost always dialogue: very often scenes between the companions and the Doctor (e.g. Three’s regneration into Four, Four leaving Sarah Jane in what he thinks is Croydon, One’s leaving Susan, Five’s regeneration into Six, Seven’s final scene with Ace, Nine telling Rose he can feel the turn of the earth, Eleven’s fish fingers and custard) or scenes of the Doctor being the Doctor (e.g. Four’s refusal to prevent the genesis of the Daleks, One’s calling Two and Three to task in “The Three Doctors,” Six discovering the identity of the Valeyard, the fury of the time lord against the Family of Blood, the Pandorica speech). Then there are the scenes that demonstrate the terror of the show (e.g. the first time we see a Dalek, the emergence of the Cyber Controller, the first time you understand what the Weeping Angels do). What’s missing from this list? Action. The show isn’t about the action – it isn’t even about time travel and paradoxes – and that’s what the movie writers missed.

The Doctor himself was great. Mr. McGann did a great job with what he was given to work with. The Eighth Doctor retained his enthusiasm for life and exploration, and his optimism, but had a much more placid nature, somewhat like the Fifth Doctor. His dialogue tried to not make him too alien, but Mr. McGann gave him a touch of wildness in his expression, so that he felt alien enough.

There was one weird scene which I have not yet figured out how to interpret. Eight and Grace come up to a cop with the intention of hijacking his motorcycle. Distracting him with an offer of a jelly baby, Eight steals his gun, then points it at himself and says, “Now, would you stand aside before I shoot myself.” I’m not sure if this was meant to make him seem more alien or to demonstrate that he won’t use a gun against another creature. It’s probably the most interesting line in the entire movie, if only because it’s so strange.

I am glad that I re-watched this movie. I feel very bad that the Eighth Doctor didn’t get to tell his own story on television like all of the other Doctors did, but I am very glad they gave him a great legacy in “The Night of the Doctor.”